MLB Stars share what it takes to shine God’s light in the dark places of sports
by Jill Ewert
Imagine you’re on the game show “Family Feud.” You step up to the podium, and the host says, “Based on a survey of 100 people, name the most ungodly environment you can imagine.” You smack the buzzer before your opponent and blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. What’s your answer? Las Vegas? A fraternity house? A bar? Maybe Hollywood?
Anybody out there say, “My locker room”?
Unfortunately, for both men and women, it’s a likely response. Guys swear, look at sleazy magazines and make obscene jokes. Girls gossip, back-bite and judge (and swear, too). It can seem like a room totally devoid of purity.
For Christian athletes, that puts us in a bind. What do we do when we’re forced to be in this kind of environment in order to play the sports we love? Is there hope of staying rooted in our faith and remaining above reproach? And what if we do stand strong but wind up getting mocked for it?
Major League Baseball stars Andy Pettitte, Brian Roberts and Luke Scott have all been there. In fact, they’re there now. Want a fitting example of an ungodly sports environment? Look no further than a typical Major League clubhouse—the place these men sit every day from April through September (and beyond if they’re lucky).
The good news is that there’s hope for anyone trying to maintain a Christ-like lifestyle in an unholy sports environment, and these men are offering encouragement. It can be done. It’s being done every day by athletes—both male and female—just like them who have learned what it takes to live a godly lifestyle in a faith-challenging environment. And not only have they learned to survive it, but also to thrive in it. Through their strong stances they are effecting change in their clubhouses by displaying the life and love of Jesus Christ.
So, think your situation is hopeless? Think again. God may just be preparing you to be a vessel of His light—one that will shine into some of the darkest places in sports.
“Is it more important that these people like me, or is it more important that God looks at me and says, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant’?”
– Brian Roberts
To get a feel for the baseball clubhouse environment, we turn first to FCA Baseball National Director David Daly, who perhaps saw more than he cared to see in his time as chaplain of the Triple-A Hickory Crawdads.
“I remember walking into the clubhouse one day and the first thing I see is one of the guys mooning me,” he laughed. “I said, ‘Get that ugly thing out of here!’ He came back later and asked me if it was true that he would go to Hell for mooning the chaplain. I messed with him for a bit, but eventually I reassured him that there was nothing in the Bible that said that.”
All moonings aside, Daly paints a clear picture of the baseball clubhouse scene: a lot of guys in a little space; a lot of clowning around; a lot of cursing; a few downtime card games; a lot of crude discussions; a competitive vibe; and, if a team is really blessed, a brotherly atmosphere.
“In good situations it’s like a family,” Daly said. “Sometimes you get on each other’s nerves, sometimes you argue, but, if somebody messes with a member of the family, they’re ready to jump in there and get his back.”
That family dynamic is where we begin. According to Daly, while it is a plus for any team to gel off the field, it also is one of the main reasons why living a godly lifestyle in the locker room can be a challenge.
“Deep down, we all want to be part of something that’s bigger than ourselves, and that’s a powerful thing,” Daly said. “Any good team has a sense of belonging—that they’re in this thing together. When you have that mentality, it makes for the most successful teams.”
The desire to connect as a team is a good thing, but it often becomes an excuse for compromising behavior. We’d rather sacrifice our beliefs than go against the grain and create friction among our teammates. We’d prefer that our teammates like us rather than risk being seen as uncool or breaking the team’s chemistry.
But this is where we must draw the line. Just ask the pros.
“When we struggle with whether we should fit in or honor God, we’re basically saying who is more important to us,” said Brian Roberts, the two-time All-Star second baseman of the Baltimore Orioles. “Is it more important that these people like me, or is it more important that God looks at me and says, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant’?”
Here we find the first key to surviving the ungodly locker room environment: making a conscious choice to follow Christ. Our minds are often referred to as battlefields, and with good reason. They can literally make or break us. We won’t take any action unless we have first decided to do it. Therefore, we must make a firm choice in our minds that we will obey Christ and live out biblical principles.
“It’s definitely one of those things you have to decide,” said Luke Scott, also a member of the Orioles and the team’s current designated hitter. “You have to decide if you’re going to have one foot in and one foot out, or if you’re going to be sold out to the Lord. Once you make the decision to follow Him and do things His way, you’re going in the right direction.”
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But anyone who has tried it knows that it’s not easy to do. So, let’s take a look at what it requires. According to Roberts, one prerequisite for godly living is a firm foundation.
“First and foremost, we need a very strong relationship with the Lord,” he said. “We need to know that we can go to Him when we screw up and even before we screw up. In fact, that’s when we should go to Him.”
Trusting God is absolutely essential when it comes to standing strong in our faith. We have to know that no matter what happens, He has the best plan for us—that His ways are better than our own—and that, if we follow His plan, He will bless us in the end.
Romans 8:28 says that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. If we believe that, we have the freedom to choose His ways over the Scripture-contradicting ways of others knowing that our actions will reap great results. But we won’t ever really know whether or not that is true if we don’t test it for ourselves.
“You have to go through it,” Roberts said. “Anybody who has been through it realizes that God is faithful. Taking a stand for the first time may be hard. It may be miserable, and you may lose a friend or a group of friends, but you realize that you can trust Him. The more you go through it again and again and continue to trust Him, the more He proves faithful, and the easier it becomes.”
But taking a stand brings us to requirement number two: guts.
“You have to have a backbone,” said pitcher Andy Pettitte, a two-time All-Star and five-time World Champion for the New York Yankees. “That’s really what it’s about. You have to have some kind of stability and the ability to stand strong. You just go into it knowing that people are going to ridicule you and say things about you, but what you have is genuine; it’s for real.”
In John 16:33 (NIV), Jesus says, “…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
The reality is that victory is already ours in every situation. Christ has already won the ultimate battle, and He offers us the same victory if we choose to walk in His ways and obey His commands. No, we won’t escape hardship—that’s part of the package—but we will be blessed.
“Being a Christian doesn’t get us exempt from anything,” Pettitte said. “We’re going to have tough times. But if you stand fast, God’s going to be faithful; He’s going to bless you. And, in the end, it’s going to be the right way to go, no doubt about it.”
Perspective comes when we understand our true purpose for being on a team. We are there to bring God glory through our abilities and model Christ to those around us. Our purpose is not to achieve personal glory or to escape every locker room encounter without ruffling feathers or damaging our popularity.
Part of God’s unique design for each of us comes in where He places us. We must realize we’ve been placed in a specific setting with a specific group of people in order to achieve His specific purpose.
“God put me where I am,” Scott said. “I’m here, yes, because He gave me the talent to play baseball, but the real truth is that He’s got me here to be Jesus with skin on in front of everybody else. And that’s the calling we all have.”
Fortunately, God understands our human limitations. He knows that the ability to live a biblical, counter-cultural lifestyle is challenging. After all, He experienced it. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.”
Because the Lord knows firsthand what it takes to make godly choices, He provides several tools that equip and strengthen us for the task. The first is the Bible.
“Just like we feed our bodies physically with food and water we have to feed our spirits with the Word of God,” Scott said. “If there’s a day I don’t read my Bible, then my spirit is hungry. There’s a lack—something that’s not in place.”
For this, Scott uses an electric analogy (literally).
“I look at it like the Lord is my power source,” he says. “If I stay plugged into Him, my light’s not going to go out. And light will always penetrate darkness no matter where you are. The Lord will never put you in a situation that is too difficult for you to handle, but the key is up to us. We have to choose to stay plugged into the power source or the enemy will dim the light through distractions, busyness, tests and trials. If we stay locked into the Lord in prayer and reading His Word, though, the more power we will have.”
Another tool we are given is the accountability of fellow believers. Whether we are on a team with seven other Christians or none, we have the responsibility of maintaining relationships that will help us grow in our faith and make wise decisions.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.”
“You need accountability,” said Roberts. “You need people you can go to when you are struggling, because, at times, temptations can seem overwhelming.”
As one of Roberts’ teammates, Scott agrees.
“Having teammates who share my faith is great because we support and encourage each other,” he said. “If we have problems, we can go to each other and build each other up. We can share our support and let each other know that we’re holding each other up.”
As a chaplain, Daly has seen this support in action many times. He’s watched timid Christian athletes gain strength in their stance through the power of accountability and the encouragement of fellow believers on the team.
On this point, Daly draws a parallel from Major League Baseball to FCA Huddles.
“The Christians in baseball really are a support system for each other, just like in any FCA Huddle across the country,” he said. “It really means a lot for the athletes who are trying to live a life of faith to be able to rely on and hang out with each other.”
With that in mind, it is also important to note that we shouldn’t isolate ourselves from unbelieving teammates. To do that would be to miss the point entirely. Not only would we miss out on an opportunity to love others with the love of Christ, we’d also miss out on the blessings of flat-out fun relationships with those who are different than we are. But we can’t build those relationships if we fear others or avoid them.
For Scott, it boils down to boundaries.
“It may be OK to go hang out with your friends and joke and have a good time, but there are guidelines and certain barriers that we don’t cross,” he said. “As Christians, we understand that we’re to be set apart. For me, I go hang out with my teammates, but there are certain topics I don’t joke about or certain beliefs I won’t agree with, and that’s fine. I stick up for what I believe in, and that in and of itself is a witness.”
When explaining his desire and passion for engaging with teammates who don’t share his faith, Scott references Mark 2:17 (NIV) in which Jesus says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
“Jesus talked to the people who needed to hear the message,” he said. “That’s our same calling. He set the example, and we’re to follow it.”
For many of us, this involves a personal level of discernment. How much can we handle before we’ll cross the line and give into the temptation to behave in an ungodly manner?
While one of us may be able to sit down at a table and play hours of card games with teammates without participating in inappropriate jokes or discussions, another might be more vulnerable to peer pressure in that same situation and be easily drawn into sin.
Pettitte finds that success in this area involves making choices as to which relationships are healthy and which are not.
“You do have to stay away from certain friends and situations if they are bringing you down,” he said. “I don’t care how mature you think you are. I’m 37 years old, but if I run around with the wrong friends right now, I’m going to end up doing the same things they are. I’m going to fall into the temptations that Satan wants me to fall into. You have to be wise when making choices.”
For every Christian athlete, it comes down to being able to be “in” the locker room and not “of” it. And when we do find that niche—that sweet spot of being able to make godly choices, love our teammates and remain above reproach—that is when the lifechange truly happens.
Galatians 6:9 (NIV) says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Even if it takes months or years of godly living and making hard choices, the Bible does promise that our labor won’t be in vain.
“That’s the interesting dynamic,” said Daly. “Even if a Christian has been mocked every day by his teammates—if they’ve excluded him or made fun of him—he’s still the one that they go to when they need help. I saw it all the time when guys were going through tough stuff and didn’t know where to turn. They’d go to that Christian teammate because they knew it was somebody they could trust and would be there for them. They’d go to him with their issues because they’d seen him living a different lifestyle, and that made all the difference.”
And isn’t that the goal? To impart the love of Christ to others so that they can receive it for themselves? Thank God, through the influence of those who are able to live a godly lifestyle in an ungodly environment, that is exactly what is happening.
“That’s just the power of what God can do when we honor Him,” Roberts said. “He just wants to use us. And He can use you to reach even those who may initially run from you. Who knows? He may even draw them close to you down the road. But, then again, that’s just the crazy part about how big God really is.”